Last night approximately 200 people of all ages attended “An Evening with Jane Goodall” at the Evanston 18/CINEARTS Theater. The film was a fascinating blend of Jane’s travels, interviews, home movies, and wildlife. At age 77 she hikes mountain trails in the Gombe National Forest in Tanzania with the ease of a teenager.
The intimate camerawork, so very technically difficult, by Lawrence Knauer lets the audience see the forest thru Jane’s eyes as she walks. When she lifts her binoculars to the treetops, we see a chimpanzee family eating, climbing over each other and grooming. They seem completely unaware of the camera. The conversational pace of the film lets each scene unfold revealing amazing detail and wonderful close ups of not just the chimpanzees but also birds, moths and insects. Some of the images appear almost 3 dimensional, close enough to touch.
Jane Goodall comes across as a very likable, practical person with a sense of humor. She seems equally at home in the forest and on the lecture circuit. Early home movies show calm, sensible, young pioneer building relationships with primates as if they were goofy next door neighbors. She even refers to herself as a “white ape” and gives David Graybeard, one of the chimpanzees, credit for being an ambassador to the animal kingdom and showing chimps that she could be trusted.
Jane’s matter of fact acceptance of forest life and her place within the chimp’s community enabled her to show Dr Leakey and the world that chimps do pull leaves off branches and use them to reach into ant tunnels to pull out a few tasty snacks. The footage of chimps eating ants was comical. They reminded me of a small child with an ice cream cone. This stunning discovery changed the accepted view of humans being the only species with the intelligence to make and use tools. It also established Jane Goodall as a scientist.
Jane’s work with chimpanzees and now as a United Nations Peace Ambassador for her conservation efforts with Roots & Shoots is fascinating. However, the 2hr 15 min film was approximately 30 minutes too long. The celebrity endorsements so vital to spreading the word and securing funding should have been more tightly edited. Yes, my 11 year old son remembers that the voice of Bart Simpson was involved. Dave Matthews, Angelina Jolie, Courtney Cox, Pierce Brosnan… Celebrities do raise awareness, but too many testimonials, using similar language, make you check your watch.
If the goal of the film was to leverage Jane’s considerable scientific and personal credentials to promote sustainable living and environmental reclamation for the benefit of people, it succeeded. The scenes on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are chilling. They are a stark contrast to the joy and hope shown at an African refugee center.
This movie should be incorporated into High School and Jr. High science and social studies classes. The message is simple. Think about the long term consequences of your actions. Give young people hope and a healthy environment.